Stress & Heart Disease

Clinical hypnotherapist Lynda Hudson suggests methods of coping with stress

Many recent and ongoing studies point to stress being a contributory factor, if not a direct cause, in heart disease. Clearly, people should be aware of the possible dangers of stress and anxiety to heart health and - more importantly - take steps to reduce them.

Stress, of course, is not only a possible cause of illness, it can be the result of illness not only for the patient but for their families as well. Family members can even become more stressed and anxious than the patients themselves, which in turn puts an additional pressure on the recovering patient! People who handle stress best are generally those with a naturally strong nervous system and a tendency to look on the bright side of life. They tend not to think in terms of disasters but as situations that are there to be coped with. Those who deal less well have more of a predisposition to worry and anticipate the worst in any given situation.

Medical facts and statistics are very reassuring to some people, who then carry out instructions for use of medication and change of lifestyle and put the fear of further problems out of their minds. Some patients or family members, however, are less reassured by logical argument and, despite being told that they are at low risk of further problems, dwell on the negative and suffer from stress, anxiety or depression.

How can they be helped? See below for suggestions to reduce levels of stress and anxiety. Some are common sense and very practical; some take more personal commitment and a bit of hard work and some are relatively easy and pleasantly relaxing.

As a stress counsellor and a consultant in clinical hypnosis I help people cope with their levels of stress through techniques and suggestions matched to a client's individual personality.

How hypnotherapy helped Sheila

Sheila came to see me several years ago after she had suffered a heart attack while she was in bed at night. Luckily, she recovered well physically but found that sleeping was difficult and stressful for her since going to sleep triggered memories of the heart attack and all the physical feelings associated with it. She became hyper-alert, noticing every little sensation, worrying that it could be about to happen all over again. Consequently, she was stopping herself going to sleep until physical exhaustion overcame her. She was obviously tired the next day and the exhaustion exacerbated her anxiety and so the cycle started all over again at bedtime. Shelia came for a few clinical hypnosis sessions where she was able to reconnect with the part of her that understood she had slept safely for many years and it was all right to do so again. She also took a personal tape recording home to listen to at bedtime and found that it allayed her fears; she was soon able to sleep normally again and begin enjoying her changed lifestyle without undue concern over her health.

For Sheila, the trigger for anxiety was her bedroom and sleep but many people find that everyday activities or places associated with the original attack trigger panicky feelings, which tend to mimic those of the original event. Clinical hypnosis can help disconnect these negative associations and establish calmer coping mechanisms, whether for the person who suffered the cardiac problem directly or the partner who suffered the shock indirectly.

How does hypnotherapy work?

Hypnotherapy for most people is a deeply relaxing experience, enjoyable in itself; it is also powerful in its calming effects after the treatment. Put at its simplest, it seems that when we are in a relaxed, slightly day-dreamy state or even just in a more focused state of inner awareness, the unconscious mind becomes more easily open and receptive to positive suggestions for well being which have been previously agreed upon between the therapist and the patient. The unconscious mind appears to allow the absorption of these positive ideas without sabotage from conscious fears and anxieties.

How do you find a clinical hypnotherapist?

If you are seeking face-to-face help from a hypnotherapist, you should check that they are clinically trained and experienced. Any reputable therapist is happy to answer your questions and provide details of the professional society to which they belong. The British Society of Clinical Hypnosis has a website www.BSCH.co.uk where you can search for a reputable fully-trained practitioner in your area. You can also contact the secretary at sec@bsch.org.uk or tel: 01262 403103 for advice on what to expect in a session.

If you have suffered from any life-threatening condition, your hypnotherapist will ask for permission to contact your consultant or GP to check that it is safe to treat you. When treating Sheila, for example, I was able to chat with her GP and confirm that it was appropriate to add suggestions that she would be keen to exercise as advised by her consultant, that she could rest at night safe in the knowledge that her heart was recovering and working well. This, of course, was in addition to powerful suggestions of calm, ease and comfort when she laid her head on the pillow and settled down for the night.Image: a woman relaxing

Self-help from our CDs

Clearly, hypnotherapy sessions might not be possible for all but I have produced a very affordable series of CDs which many, many people have found comforting and helpful. Some assist in relieving anxiety, others help you deal with stress and others help you rest more easily and calmly as you wait gently for sleep to come upon you. The best time to listen to the 'Rest and Sleep' CD is probably at bedtime, as you lie in bed, and also to have it on hand should you wake during the night and want to be lulled back to sleep. These are available from my website www.firstwayforward.com and from Amazon and all good on-line book shops as well as from selected high street book shops. They are also available to rent or buy from www.simplyaudiobooks.com and in digital download format from www.audible.co.uk.

How to reduce stress and anxiety and improve your sleep

  • Go for a walk every day, or take some other appropriate physical exercise as advised by your doctor.
  • Set a period of time each day for doing something you enjoy.
  • Reduce caffeine, sugar, alcohol and eliminate smoking - not only for the sake of your general health but because they are stress stimulants.
  • ake some relaxing time each day, such as listening to a hypnotherapy CD appropriate to you, or do some self-hypnosis - which is easy to learn.
  • For at least two hours before bedtime, do not engage in stimulating brain activity. Instead, watch some gentle TV; listen to music, read a magazine or novel. Reserve study, or more challenging reading or discussion, for earlier in the day.
  • If you have concerns about your condition, or that of a family member, talk about it early in the day rather than in the evening or before bed.
  • Find the right person to talk to; it might be a professional, a friend or family member. Think about what you need from the conversation; is it support, information, reassurance, to blow off steam, off-load concerns, or a bit of light relief? Talking to the wrong person can make things worse or simply worry others unnecessarily. Talking to the right person can be enormously helpful.
  • Should you find yourself worrying about anything during the night, remind yourself that for most people there is a natural energy dip in the early hours and this is really not the time to take your thoughts seriously. During the day write yourself a reminder that night time thoughts come from when you are at your lowest ebb and are often not to be believed!Image: relaxing candles burning
  • If you find you can't sleep or you wake during the night, write down the key words of any thoughts or concerns and promise yourself you will set aside an appointed time to consider them in the daytime. Keep your promise, go through the list and you will find this technique very helpful. The unconscious mind is reminding you that you need to deal with these things and will keep reminding you until you do so, usually at night!
  • Remind yourself too that feelings are not necessarily facts! Because you feel an event is frightening or threatening does not mean that your feelings are to be believed. Check out the facts; feelings can quite often mislead you.

Lynda Hudson is a leading consultant hypnotherapist who has helped many thousands of people to overcome their problems, both in her clinical practice and through her self-help therapy CDs. She has gained an international reputation for her innovative work with children

She is an examiner for the London College of Clinical Hypnosis, presents Master Classes in The Use of Hypnosis with Children and delivers training courses to the medical profession

Lynda's work, with the remarkable success of her CDs in helping young people overcome problems such as anxiety, persistent bedwetting and symptoms of Tourette Syndrome, has been widely featured in the press and on TV.

Lynda Hudson BA (Hons) Psychology, Dip Clinical Hypnosis, Dip Stress Management, Master Practitioner NLP, Adv Cert Cognitive Behaviour, Trauma PTSD & CISD, Member of the British Psychological Society, Member of the British Society of Clinical Hypnosis, Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine

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